Monday, May 04, 2009


We hear quite frequently how smart President Obama and Rahm Emanuel and Barney Frank and Hilary Clinton are. Even political opponents remark on this as a prelude to policy disagreements. "Smart" now seems to be its own political entity as President Obama endorses "smart diplomacy," "smart meters," "smart cars," etc. etc. It is presumably impolite to notice how this seems a reprise of the "best and the brightest" from the 1960s.

There is something curious however about how these really smart people think. People that don't have nearly the reputation for smarts as Mr. Obama or Noam Chomsky can predict with impressive accuracy what those smart people think about particular topics. People of unremarkable intelligence know what the really smart people are going to say before the smarties say it. Susan Sontag was supposed to be one of these supersmart people but her comments after the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001 were as predictable as the coming dawn. Her thoughts were less suggestive of deep intellectual inquiry than they were the products of an articulate machine, more deterministic than inspired.

The reality is less that our leaders devise policies based on their unique intellectual nimbleness and more that such intellectual gifts are merely used to advance policies that are products primarily of personality, emotions, and subjective taste. "Smart" isn't enough, nor should it be particularly comforting.

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